Whether Weather Affects Tea

An item on Facebook about drought affecting Assam tea started me wondering whether weather really has an effect on tea. The answer: Well, duh! Of course it does! The real question is “How?” So, I went digging online to see what the “experts” had to say. Not as easy as you would think.

The Assam Drought Effect on Taste?

The Assam drought was supposed to adversely affect the taste of their tea — less strong and bright. (Being a big big big fan of this type of tea, the issue caused me some concern.) However, lots of things could affect the taste: older tea plants (Camellia Sinensis), lack of proper nutrients due to withdrawal of fertilizers, a change (or a need for a change) in production methods, or maybe just a perception and not a reality. Taste memory is pretty fickle. Whatever the case, I could find no “expert” who had done any side-by-side testing, nor have I tasted pre- and post-drought versions of these teas. And to blame such effects on climate alone seems overly simplistic.

The Assam Drought Effect on Production Levels?

One claim is that tea production (growing and harvesting) has been greatly reduced by the “erratic weather condition in north and south India” and by a fluctuating climate. Well, weather certainly plays a role here, with both too much and too little rain and too high and too low of temperatures resulting in the plants not growing as they should, and we certainly live on a changing planet. Just ask the folks in Japan. However, folks are saying that this is unprecedented. Not quite.

Harvest records (in all of India per Tea Board of India and other sources) in chart at right:

For 2012, January thru April production was 143.28 million kg, a drop of 24.15 million kg from the previous year. A bit early to get overly concerned?

* an increase of 23% over previous year

In short, increases and decreases in tea production due to weather or other factors such as fewer acres under tea production (in 2004, 70 tea gardens in Assam closed) is a normal occurrence. No need to panic, fellow tea drinkers, at least not yet.

Meanwhile, in Other Countries…

Weather isn’t the same in all parts of this big globe. Yeah, I know this is obvious, but often the obvious needs to be pointed out! India (and the U.S.) are experiencing more heat and drought than some years previous, but other countries are doing well.

A few of the many items I found:

  • Kenya – Heavy rains in early 2012 were cited as causing “a turnaround in tea production in Kenya…after drought and frost led to a 15 percent drop in first quarter output,” per the Tea Board of Kenya.
  • Nepal – The Kathmandu Post reported that “According to Nepal Tea and Coffee Development Board (NTCDB), the country’s tea production is expected to increase by more than 10 percent this year due to growing demand in the domestic and international market.”
  • Uganda – A June 2011 report said they had a 10% increase over previous 12 months, supposed to be due to “increased use of fertilizer and better processing of the crop.” Also, “the increase to good weather” was cited.
  • Tanzania – In November 2011, the tea crop was predicted to increase by 9.4% due to “increased rainfall,” per the Tea Board of Tanzania. This was confirmed in a later report in February 2012.

On a side note, a December 2004 report said world tea production “in 2003 reached 3.15 million tonnes, 75 000 tonnes more than in 2002, largely as a result of favourable weather conditions” and seeing a downward direction over the following few years after reaching a peak like that is akin to hitting that downslope on the roller coaster. Pretty scary but then you are at the bottom and on your way back up. In short, the dire situation is merely a matter of viewpoint.

I’m pretty confident that plenty of that malty tasty Assam tea will be available! (Photo source: A.C. Cargill, all rights reserved)
I’m pretty confident that plenty of that malty tasty Assam tea will be available! (Photo source: A.C. Cargill, all rights reserved)

The Japan Earthquake in 2011

Japan, in 2011, was rocked by a massive earthquake and an equally massive tsunami that affected a nuclear power station (it had been built to withstand the earthquake and did). These weather-related events had the following effect on their tea:

worldwide panic that the tea had been tainted by radiation

Whether it had been or not is uncertain, but perception can often be 9/10ths of reality, so several countries banned their teas, even teas from areas that were not affected by these events.

Bottom Line

Tea production goes up and down. It’s like the stock market and can drive you just as nuts if you watch it too closely. And yes, weather affects tea — but you probably already knew that.

Time for a pot of tea!

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